|Image sourced from Great Food Photos|
This partnership is also seen between Jamie Oliver & David Loftus, who regularly shoots for Jamiemagazine and shot many of Jamie’s cookbooks before the magazine launched in 2009. Significantly, food publishing has maintained the same template for decades. Typically magazines show large photographs of food on glossy paper. Jamie magazine instead prints on unconventional matt paper, mixing travel reportage with food. “It looks accessible but aspirational at the same time, quite a feat” (Leslie, J. 2010, p54). This view of real food and the chef/photographer partnership promotes more natural-looking food.
Food photography shifted in 2004 when Marks and Spencer‘s memorable television campaign pushed ‘food porn’ into the spotlight. No longer were we seeing shots with shallow depth of field and clean white backgrounds; movement and texture became the key aspects of interest. Seductive voice-overs accompanied oozing, chocolate puddings, drizzled sauces and meat being craved. Juices trickled in slow motion, intensifying the portrayal.
‘Food porn’ had been used in food photography since the late 1980’s but was coined as “Gastroporn” by Michael Boys, a food and female nude photographer. His term described sensually provocative and intentionally alluring imagery in cookery books. The imagery appeals to “basic carnal desires” (Plimmer, C. 1988, p20) Food writer Nigel Slater recalls a shoot for French Marie Claire magazine, where chef, Jean-Louis created a dish of pears in red wine. The photograph captured a trail of sauce dribbling down the side of a pear. (Dillon, S. 2010 [radio]). Such images were so popular with “advertisements telling us that we can ‘indulge’ in eating things that we ‘shouldn’t’. The cunning and powerful allure of food reaches us covertly” (Kuehn, G. in ed Allhoff et al, 2007, p166). These tempting, visual stimuli of erotically suggestive food greatly increased the popularity of food. Jane Lerner remarks, food porn “turns something relatively mundane into a fetish, as if we’re seeking an idealized version of food that’s prettier, sexier and more outrageous than what we’re going to get at home.” (2009, p20). Typing ‘Food porn’ into Google today returns 17,300,000 (744,000 in 2010) results. Launched in January 2007, Tastespotting, an online archive of user-submitted images compiled by a team of editors describes itself as “our obsessive, compulsive collection of eye-catching images that link to something deliciously interesting on the other side.”(2007, [online]) Similarly, websites Foodgawker, (launched in June 2008), Recipes2Share and Open Source Food fill the demands for mouth-watering images. Photographer Tim Hill shared this desire to stir viewers’ senses. “If you look at a shot and your mouth waters, I’ve won. When you eat the food you can see it, smell it, taste it, touch it. I can’t show all that. I can only show what it looks like. I’m trying to make the image as graphic and interesting as possible so that it says ‘Eat me’” (Hill, T. in Smyth, D. 2007, p15) 1.
Around the same time, came a contrasting trend of much more natural-looking food that wasn’t so pornographic. There were two very different styles of photography but there is always going to be room for both, largely due to the audience who buy food magazines. If you take a look at images in what was formerly Waitrose Food Illustrated (now Waitrose Kitchen) and compare them to FamilyCircle or Good Housekeeping it’s like viewing porn magazines to needle patterns.
(1 sourced from Diane Smyth, (2007) “Food Rules”, British Journal of Photography, Vol. 154, July 11, pp 14-16.)
|Bradley Olman, Dietary Ice cream, ca 1988|
Bradley Olman shot this image of a table laden with ice cream for It’s Me, an American advertorial magazine available in Lane Bryant department stores for plus-size women. The article listed a number of recipes for dietary ice cream however the dishes of ‘ice cream’ were in fact “artfully coloured flour-and-water fake”. All the other food in the set up was real. Olman said, “To make it all look thick and rich enough took forever. We had to get the right texture and put the ridges in.” (Plimmer, C. 1988, p104) He worked on the set with two assistants, a food stylist and the magazine editor to achieve this aesthetically ‘perfect’ image. Some may argue that this is misleading to a consumer but the aim was always to strive for aesthetic perfection and not reality. When looking at images of food, it has to be taken into account the amount of time and effort that is put in to make the food last long enough for the photographer to capture it in the best possible light and setting. Delores Custer, who started out as a food stylist in the 1970’s comments “food dies…it wilts, it cracks, it melts, it changes colour. So food stylists have to work to each element’s particular life-span, keeping everything alive until shoot time, even resuscitating it to make it look beautiful for the camera.” (Goldwasser, A. 1998, p58, (1)) She adds “visually, the thing that appeals is consistency in arrangement”. It is this consistency in arrangement that forces us to liken such food images to still life paintings of the 17th and 18th century.
|Henry Fox Talbot, from series ‘Pencils of Nature’ 1846.|
Before we can even begin to look at food photography, we must first look at still life paintings, since arguably, the food photography genre, however uninspiringly commercial it may have seemed at points in the 20th century, has undoubtedly developed from this art historical tradition. Even now, contemporary food photographers refer back to still life paintings as an acknowledgement of their roots. “It is this aesthetic tradition, nourished by Flemish and Spanish artists, which has been passed down to us in today’s glamorous cookery books” (Plimmer, C. 1988 p8). First we will examine the origins of still life painting, assess the importance of these beginnings, and explain how and why food was first used as a subject in art. As we will see, there are many key aspects of interest that painters have used that have later been taken up by food photography.
Still life paintings of the 17th century seemed to draw attention to food as having a ‘natural beauty’, which “was celebrated most brilliantly of all, of course, by the still life painters of the c16th and c17th centuries.” (Plimmer,C. 1988, p8). While the genre of still life in painting can be traced back to the 16th century, it wasn’t until the 17th century that it became well known in Europe. These paintings were privately commissioned in which “inspiration was provided by inanimate nature in all its shapes, volumes, materials, colours and reactions to light.” (Malaguzzi, S. 2008, p53). This is significant because the commissioners had more creative control over the paintings than the painters themselves. The painters were required for their skill, which was assessed by their aesthetic choices and their meticulous arrangement of objects, their ability to portray the subject and whether the painting expressed an allegorical message. Food was often used as subject matter, as it allowed painters to meet all of these criteria. A notable example is Michelangelo Merisi de Caravaggio, in Italy in the early 17th century, who preferred creating compositions containing realistic depictions of fruit.
Paintings like these highlight the key aspects of interest in still life; realism, painterly skill, effects of light, arrangement and composition, allegory and indicators of lifestyle. As we will see in later blog posts, realism, ‘painterly’ skill and these other key aspects of interest are techniques that have carried over into food photography.